The best horrors mix feelings with fear, tragedy with terror; they give you a reason not just for the characters to be involved in the creepy shenanigans, but us to be too. After The Enfield Haunting’s incredibly chilling opening episode, the final two chapters make a quiet step from the scary to the sad.
“You just want to find her,” snaps Janet Hodgson (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) at Maurice (Timothy Spall), after the first episode’s reveal that his dead daughter was also called Janet. “I’m looking for… something,” he admits.
As well as character development, though, there’s an expectation of creepiness and with a floating Matthew Macfadyen and moving teapots already under its belt, the show has to take some big steps to keep us jumping. Some of them don’t quite land: regular departures into Exorcist-ville, with a deep, male voice coming out of Janet’s mouth, feel too familiar to truly frighten. Possession, after all, is nine-tenths of the genre. Even Janet herself seems occasionally at peace with the concept. “It means it needs me,” she rationalises.
The real shocks lie in the smaller moments: a sequence involving tapping noises (once for no, twice for yes) is hugely unsettling, especially because it brings things firmly onto Maurice’s head. So when he brings in the Society of Psychical Research and they try to distance him from his subject, we fully understand his anguish.
Spall is superb as the depressed, bereaved dad, his moustache drooping as low as his morale. Juliet Stevenson as his wife, Betty, is equally believable, both annoyed at him spending time with Mrs. Hodgson (the endearingly timid Rosie Cavaliero) and racked with guilt over her daughter’s demise. The prospect of either of them – especially her – making contact with the departed Janet underlies the whole mystery, resulting in several fragile, fraught exchanges.
As the scope widens, Matthew Macfadyen’s Guy Lyon Playfair becomes as preoccupied with his bestselling novel as he does resolving the matter, but it’s his convincing concern for Maurice that holds them together against the malevolent force they face. Back-stories and investigative work drive the plot with a intriguing, procedural pace. Equally formidable, though, are the doctors who inevitably wade in, arguing that it’s science not superstition to blame. “This is Enfield not Africa,” says one bluntly. It’s precisely that juxtaposition that gives The Enfield Haunting its weight; it’s a drama that relies on the troubles of the everyday residents of this drab, period town, where sticky tape and wasps in the garden are more relatable (and therefore more horrifying) than mediums or professors.
One conversation between Spall and Janet sees him compare conquering spirits to trying to contain anger: “Like air under linoleum,” he suggests, “it pops up somewhere else.” The extremely talented Worthington-Cox proves as agile as she innocent, ensuring that both these concepts are touchingly alien to her. “Janet wouldn’t do that,” declares Maurice, when the idea of her faking it arises. “She’s not your daughter,” comes the pointed reply. Their unnatural, yet sweet, bond – fuelled by the notion that haunting doesn’t just have to be literal – is what ultimately gets under your skin. If the scares don’t always work, the disturbing question of how far Maurice’s sadness will take him more than makes up for it.
In its final two hours, sThe Enfield Haunting ticks all the horror cliche boxes, but it underlines emotion with a thick, black pen. The result is an enjoyable, old-school fright fest, but one with a satisfyingly moving conclusion.
The Enfield Haunting is available on DVD and on pay-per-view VOD services, including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, TalkTalk TV Store and Google Play.
Photo: Nick Briggs